Would you live differently today?

I submit that your expected life span greatly influences your actions and that those actions in the aggregate greatly influences the behavior of civilization. In nature, there are different kinds of sea animals, fish, whales, turtles, that all live more than 200 years. Mollusks have estimated life spans of more than 400 years. On land california redwoods live for more than 2000 years. Some bristlecone pines have recorded ages spanning over 4000 years. A healthy human generally lives for 70-80 years and thus about 3 generations of humans are concurrently alive at all times.

My hypothesis is that societies with 3 concurrent generations are different from societies with 2 concurrent generations which again are different from societies with close to 1 concurrent generation. A one-generation society constantly starts over in terms of social understanding and civilized behavior on all aspects. A two-generation society will have some two-generation long cycles because one generation is present to advise the next generation. A three generation society will have three frequencies.

Another way of looking at this is that in a one-generation society, the wisest advisors are 25 years old. In a two-generation society, they are 50 years old, and in a three-generation society, they are 75 years old.

We do not have the benefit of 100, 125, …. or 500 year old advisors. Consider, for instance, that a 250 year old advisor would be fully able to tell us whether industrialization was a good idea. He would be able to tell us whether increasing the human population on the planet by ten fold was a good idea. Even a 150 years, such a person would have the experience of several major wars and have much more experience rather than facing each new conflict as something that has never been “felt” before.

In a room with 100 people, more than 95 of them see civilization as a endless progression of growth. Very few holds a longer perspective. The 95 are like a person born in January and upon noticing that the temperature goes up as the months progress to May concludes that the temperature grows, always. Suppose that the lifespan of our fictitious group is 4-5 months and the source of this thinking becomes clear.

But what are the longer cycles of civilization. Is it even possible, beyond academic research, to bring an understanding of cycles out to the general civilization so that people start living according to such a mental framework rather than the and extrapolation of the current situation (growth) to the eternal situation (endless growth).

Readers may practice changing their framework by thinking about the current stock market.

I think religions provide a framework for most people mainly because the corresponding intellectual understanding requires a vast effort to cover the same bases (no wonder science came last) . Now, consider the difference between a religion where people believe that they are going back to Earth in some form after they die and a religion where people believe that they are going somewhere else after they die. How do these different philosophies align with the idea of not fouling your own nest (in particular the nest of your children’s children). Which one aligns best with the idea that humans are an integral component of the environment? How do religions transfer good behavior where intergenerational communications, as per above, fails?

Originally posted 2008-10-28 07:36:19.